Breastfeeding, Returning to Work, and the Law

Breastfeeding, Returning to Work, and the Law

Women choose to breastfeed their infants for a variety of reasons including maternal and infant benefit, convenience and cost-savings. Unfortunately, many women employed outside of the home experience concern over how they can continue to breastfeed after returning to work. Other sources of maternal stress when returning to work include maternal/infant separation, fear, childcare needs and work-life balance. But for many, the greatest concern is, “Will I be able to pump?”

New protections for working moms who are breastfeeding

Because women work in varied settings from construction sites to hospital operating rooms, when and where she will be able to safely and sanitarily pump breast milk is a valid concern. In March 2010, an amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act set forth protections for breastfeeding mothers. Because of this legislation, many employers are now required by law to grant breast feeding women “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk” as well as to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” This was a great step forward for mothers and babies.

With such an inclusive law in place, women may return to work relieved that their employer will be providing them with the provisions outlined in the law. Unfortunately, not everyone is entitled to these protections.

Not all moms are covered?!

You heard it right- not all employers are required to provide women with a breast milk expression break and not all employees qualify to receive the benefit!

Under the current law, those who are not covered under the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) may be legally denied this provision unless state laws dictate otherwise. Understanding your rights under the law may be confusing. It is best to initially discuss this with your employer, who may have a company-specific policy in place.  Companies that employ fewer than 50 workers who can prove that providing women with this space and break time would inflict hardship on the company, may deny women a pumping break.

Examples of employees not covered by the law per the Department of Labor include:

  • Executive, administrative, and professional employees (including teachers and academic administrative personnel in elementary and secondary schools), outside sales employees, and certain skilled computer professionals
  • Employees of certain seasonal amusement or recreational establishments
  • Employees of certain small newspapers and switchboard operators of small telephone companies
  • Seamen employed on foreign vessels
  • Employees engaged in fishing operations
  • Employees engaged in newspaper delivery
  • Farm workers employed on small farms (i.e., those that used less than 500 “man‑days” of farm labor in any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year)
  • Casual babysitters and persons employed as companions to the elderly or infirm

 Will women be paid during these milk expression breaks?

The answer is: Yes and No.

If a woman uses time outside of the company’s existing compensated breaks, then employers are not legally required to provide wages. The exception to this rule is if a woman is not “completely relieved from duty,” at which time wages continue to accrue.

To be sure you understand your companies milk expression break policy, speak with your human resources department or manager. If you feel as though you are not being provided with reasonable and legal provisions to express milk, speak with a legal advisor to better understand your rights.


What have been your experiences? Share your thoughts in the comment section below! 

Lori Smith
Lori Smith, BSN, MSN, CRNP received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Wilkes University and her Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Pennsylvania. She practiced as a Gynecologic Oncology Nurse Practitioner for 7 years after completion of her master’s degree, providing care to women with both benign and malignant female reproductive diseases. Lori is now an accomplished freelance writer specializing in health and wellness; she has been published in both print and online media.

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